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Thursday, December 6, 2012
Police were punishing Bersih crowd, says Ambiga
By Zurairi AR
December 06, 2012
KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 6 — Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan suggested today that the police had failed to give the April 28 electoral reform demonstrators in the city sufficient time to disperse and punished them by using disproportionate force instead.
“The police personnel were trapping the people. It is as if your intention was not to disperse, but to punish instead,” the co-chairman of electoral reform group Bersih 2.0 told the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) panel looking into the large-scale violence that erupted in the national capital nearly eight months ago.
“They should’ve used Shelltox instead of nuclear bomb,” Ambiga (picture)quipped, referring to a popular brand of mosquito repellent.
She was responding to a panel member who used an allegory, that one should not burn down the net just because one is mad with mosquitoes, to describe the chaotic situation in the city that day.
Ambiga had pointed to a previous statement by Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein in Parliament where he said 909 tear gas canisters and 58 tear gas grenades were used on April 28.
“I was shocked to see the numbers. Nothing justifies using nearly 1,000 canisters into a crowd that is leaving,” she said.
According to Ambiga, the authorities also failed to help disperse the crowd by keeping road blocks in place and by closing the light rail transit (LRT) stations.
The lawyer had compared Bersih 3.0 to the recent Himpunan Hijau rally, and alleged that the latter went peacefully since there was no agent provocateurs embedded in the crowd.
“You don’t know who’s planted to cause trouble .. we’ve seen agent provocateurs in both times,” she said, referring to the two Bersih rallies that she had been involved with.
Ambiga explained that it would’ve taken at least one hour for the crowd to fully disperse, after the rally was cut short to end at around 2.30 pm.
She said that the original plan was for PAS’ Unit Amal to help direct the dispersing crowd and spread the dispersal instruction by word of mouth, since her loud hailer couldn’t be heard over the crowd noise.
Suhakam panel chief Prof Datuk Khaw Lake Tee had also questioned an instruction given to Bersih participants, telling them to only listen to Unit Amal field commanders and nobody else.
“If the police gave out orders, should they disregard the orders?” Khaw asked.
“I have to be frank, it wasn’t very well-drafted,” Ambiga replied, explaining that it only meant that participants shouldn’t listen to rumours as it would create confusion among the crowd.
In his cross-examination, ACP Jamaluddin Abdul Rahman suggested that the police had exercised restraint in firing only 976 shots of tear gas.
“A total of 18 shells of tear gas would’ve been fired once every minute ... if we had continuously shot for four hours when Bersih was happening, we would’ve used 4,030.
“(Don’t you agree that) the police only shot when it was necessary?” Jamaluddin asked, to which Ambiga disagreed,
In September, Khaw had said that “there was not much room to run” for protesters during the Bersih rally on April 28, disputing earlier police testimony of having enough roads open for participants to disperse.
She had told reporters after the panel made an on-site visit that the exits assigned by the police to allow people to disperse were further away, leaving only two narrow lanes nearby.
The inquiry will continue for one more day at a later date.